A former Southeast Alaska resident has pleaded guilty in a child sex abuse case after he was found mentally competent to change his plea.
Sixty-six-year-old John W. Strickling entered into a plea deal Thursday in Juneau Superior Court and admitted to one count of attempted sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree.
That’s a class ‘C’ felony sex offense that carries a maximum possible punishment of 99 years in prison. Because it’s his first felony conviction, Strickling is presumptive to serve between two and 12 years.
The plea deal did not include an agreed-upon sentence. Attorneys said sentencing will be left up to the court. The sentencing hearing will take place on Nov. 8 before Judge Louis Menendez.
Strickling was accused of abusing a minor under 13 years old in both Juneau and Ketchikan. According to charging documents, the abuse continued for years (2002 to 2009) before the victim reported it to her mother, who then reported it to police in 2011.
Prosecutors indicted Strickling after a year-long investigation on five felony sex offense charges: four counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor and one count of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor.
The plea deal calls for reducing the latter count by making it an ‘attempted’ crime, which downgrades it from a class ‘B’ felony sex crime to a class ‘C’. Class ‘B’ felony sex crimes carry the same maximum possible penalty as the class ‘C’ — 99 years — but a higher presumptive range for first time offenders — five to 15 years instead of two to 12.
The proposed plea deal dismisses the remaining counts against him in exchange for the guilty plea. Menendez will decide whether to accept the plea bargain during the upcoming sentencing hearing.
Strickling, who was arrested in Nome after a Juneau grand jury indicted him in September 2012, previously wanted to plead guilty, but questions remained about his competency due to mental health issues.
A mental health clinician at Lemon Creek Correctional Center said he had persistent religiously-themed delusions, and the Department of Corrections refused to accept his signatures on medical forms.
His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Eric Hedland, said Strickling has since been evaluated at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage and was found to be mentally competent. Legally speaking, that means Strickling understands the legal proceedings, including what the charges against him are, and that he is capable of assisting in his own defense.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.